Capitol Hill is paying new heed to harassment Hill-Thomas case brings new focus to policies.

October 29, 1991|By Katherine Shaver and Derek Lick | Katherine Shaver and Derek Lick,States News Service

Contrary to a story in yesterday's Evening Sun, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., has signed guidelines proposed by the Capitol Hill Women's Political Caucus against sexual harassment. The Evening Sun regrets the error.

Anita Hill's allegation of sexual harassment didn't keep Judge Clarence Thomas off the U.S. Supreme Court, but it certainly sent senators and House members, including some from Maryland, scurrying.

Some members of Congress suddenly are sending out press releases outlining their individual office's sexual harassment policies.

And in the wake of Hill's allegation, the Capitol Hill Women's Political Caucus delivered copies of its suggested sexual harassment policy to Capitol Hill offices last week in response to many requests.


The enthusiasm for such formal guidelines wasn't always so noticeable.

When the women's caucus circulated its recommendations in April, the response was lukewarm; less than half of each chamber -- 30 senators and 170 House members -- had adopted the policy after five months.

But in the past two weeks, four more senators and 20 more House members have adopted the caucus' guidelines, and at least 50 Capitol Hill offices have asked for more information, said Jean Dugan, chairwoman of the caucus.

"They're going on record against sexual harassment," Dugan said. "A lot of them quite honestly said they hadn't seen it when we distributed it in April."

Some lawmakers said they adopted the policy but maintained they have always condemned any form of discrimination. Others said they didn't adopt it, although they have an "understood" policy among their staff that harassment is intolerable.

Some members of Maryland's congressional delegation differed on their written policies, although they said sexual harassment is not tolerated among staff members.

An outspoken supporter of Anita Hill, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., signed on to the caucus model policy when it was first announced, said her spokesman, John Steele.

So did Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, a member of the Caucus on Women's Issues, said Tom Rosshirt, Mfume's press secretary.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, adopted the policy in May, said his press secretary Dawana Merritt.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., has not adopted the policy, but his spokesman, Bruce Frame, said discussions with staffers are held regularly to go over any problems with office policies and Senate rules that aim to eliminate sexual harassment.

The caucus' guidelines define sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual attention" as perceived by the victim. The guidelines also cite examples of sexual harassment that include "ill-received dirty jokes," "unsolicited and unwelcome flirtations," and "the abuse of familiarities or diminutives," including "referring to adult women as girls."

The caucus maintains that because Congress is not covered under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, members "need to protect staff members from sexual harassment with a written policy."

Some critics say emphasis on whether a member of Congress has adopted the caucus's policy is misguided because both the House and Senate already have formal guidelines for hearing discrimination complaints from staff members.

The House hears complaints through its Office of Fair Employment Practices, while the Senate handles cases through its Ethics Committee.

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